Sunday environmental round up, 2 August 2020

Sombre statistics about the murder of environmental activists but better news about the economic as well as environmental and human benefits of protecting large areas of land and sea. Ongoing coal consumption may incinerate the Paris Agreement targets but that doesn’t won’t stop Australia exporting it as long as possible, even if Australia itself is rapidly transitioning to renewables. Gas is no better.

I’ve covered this topic before but it’s worth keeping at the front of our minds. In Australia some of us get angry and frustrated at the self-serving, destructive, irresponsible decisions of governments and private companies but we don’t get killed. During 2019 at least 212 community and social leaders who were defending the land and environment were killed, the highest number ever. 40% of the victims belonged to Indigenous communities. State forces were clearly linked to 37 murders but 19 of the victims were state officials or park rangers. Over half of the killings occurred in Columbia and the Philippines; over two-thirds were in Latin America, including 33 killings in the Amazon region. The deadliest industrial sectors were mineral and fossil fuel mining, agribusiness and logging – if you’re business will kill millions in the future, why should you care about a few hundred now! The three broad strategies for governments and companies to halt the killings are: tackle the root causes, safeguard defender rights and ensure accountability.

Talking of protecting the planet, the Guardian reports that 30% of the world’s oceans and land could be protected without harming the economy – in fact could boost the economy. This would require doubling the currently protected land and quadrupling the currently protected marine areas. About US$24 billion is currently spent annually on the world’s nature-protected areas; this would need to rise six-fold by 2030 to meet the 30% target. The benefits, however, could be up to US$450 billion annually. For instance, replacing mangroves and coral reefs protects coasts from storm surges and floods and nurtures young fish; increased vegetation reduces air pollution and improves health; protecting marine areas from fishing, oil drilling and mining allows fish populations to recover and creates sustainable fishing stocks. ‘The benefits to humanity are incalculable and the cost of inaction is unthinkable. The time to finance nature, for people and for planet, is now.’

Here’s an anthology of coal stories.

‘Coal mining is an important industry for New South Wales and will continue to be so for the next few decades.’ So begins the Minister’s Foreword to the new Strategic Statement on Coal Exploration and Mining in NSW. In fairness, the Minister goes on to recognise that coal has a ‘finite lifespan’  and that coal-dependent communities will need supporting to diversify during the transition. No thought of NSW leading the global transition to zero emissions though: ‘[the NSW Government will allow] exports to continue while there is global demand [and] will continue to support the responsible development of our abundant, high quality coal resources’. The old drug pusher argument – a position adopted within the Statement itself: ‘Ending or reducing NSW thermal coal exports while there is still strong long-term global demand would likely have little or no impact on global carbon emissions’. That’s alright then. NSW exports 85% of its coal production and is working on the basis that between now and 2050 the global demand for thermal coal will fall from about 1,000 million metric tonnes to about 900. If the world is still burning that much coal in 2050, we’ll have kissed the Paris targets goodbye long ago.

Even Fatih Birol, the Director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), is convinced that the world cannot meet its climate targets if existing coal plants are allowed to soldier on to the end of their planned lifetimes (unless they capture their emitted carbon, which is unlikely). Birol’s blunt comment prompted the CEO of Pacific Hydro, a renewable energy company based in Melbourne, to comment that she had never heard the choice expressed so plainly before (mmmmm🤔). She did, however, remind Birol about Australian governments’ ongoing love affairs with coal.

The good news is that three Australian energy experts Kerry Schott, Chair of the Energy Security Board, Benn Barr, CEO of the Australian Energy Market Commission, and Tony Wood of the Grattan Institute think that the still falling price of renewables and the increasing inefficiency and cost of our remaining coal fired power stations will probably force the closure of all of them by 2040. And with just a little planning, we’ll hardly notice. Let’s make that four experts: Audrey Zibelman, CEO of the Australian Energy Market Operator, says Australia is going to experience the world’s fastest transition to renewable energy. Indeed, the AEMO is planning for 94% of electricity sourced from renewables by 2040. (With thanks to Renew Economy for the last three hyperlinks.)

I can’t leave coal without giving Mr Adani a serve; not about the Australian end of his planned Carmichael mine though. This 6-minute video gives voice to Indians in Godda who have been forcibly displaced and abused by Adani, with the state’s collusion, to make space for the construction of a power station which will burn Carmichael coal to supply power to nearby Bangladesh.

And if anyone still thinks gas has a future, it’s not The Australia Institute who demonstrate that: investing the same dollars in just about any other Australian industry than gas creates more jobs; more gas will lock in higher emissions and higher energy prices for decades; and most gas companies are based overseas and the subsidies and profits they reap head in the same direction.

This week’s graphic is a bit tricky but it’s worth a couple of minutes study to better understand how electricity is generated, used and 60% lost in the USA. The numbers would be different in Australia but I suspect that the overall pattern is similar. (If the text in the graphic is a bit too small to read, go to this hyperlink.)

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Peter Sainsbury is a retired public health worker with a long interest in social policy, particularly social justice, and now focusing on climate change and environmental sustainability. He is extremely pessimistic about the world avoiding catastrophic global warming.

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